The national curriculum must focus on aims and not subjects, academics argue


The national curriculum should be built around a set of aims rather than a list of separate subjects, say two leading academics.

The national curriculum should be built around a set of aims rather than a list of separate subjects, say two leading academics.

Professor Michael Reiss and Professor John White believe that instead of starting with the individual requirements of traditional subjects, curriculum planners must first work out the overarching aims required to equip every child to lead a fulfilling life.

In other words, educators and policy-makers should begin by asking what schools are for.

They also say that a non-political national commission should be set up to work out the fundamental aims of the curriculum before any new national curriculum is imposed. 

“Both the present national curriculum and the latest proposals for its reform fail too many learners,” they argue.

“By starting from first principles as to the aims of education and trusting teachers to work out more of the specifics for all their students we can have curricula that are more suitable for all learners.”

In their new book, An Aims-based Curriculum, the two Institute of Education academics make other radical proposals, including extending the national curriculum to the age of 18 with the raising of the school-leaving age, making the national curriculum a matter of non-statutory guidance, abolishing the remaining SATs, and encouraging the use of cumulative records of achievement.

The book considers increasingly specific aims for education, covering personal qualities, skills, knowledge and understanding needed for a life of “personal, civic and vocational wellbeing”.

Prof Reiss, a former secondary science teacher and now professor of science education at the Institute of Education in London, told SecEd that some subjects are seen as “better than others” in the recently published draft national curriculum.

But he added that “there is a real danger that we will dramatically increase the proportion of the school-aged population who are turned off learning – and that’s to nobody’s benefit”.

He continued: “I sit on the science national curriculum working group and the drafts for science aren’t too bad. But some of the other subjects are too narrow a model of what education is.

“The classic that is quoted a great deal is history. Everybody wants us to be proud of this country’s history and to know about it – but you don’t do that by starting at year dot with five-year-olds and plodding through the next 11 years until you get to Margaret Thatcher’s government.”

He would also like to see an end to “ministerial meddling”.

“We get it more in education than any other subject,” he said. “You don’t get ministers standing up and telling surgeons how they ought to operate, but we do in education.”

An Aims-based Curriculum: The significance of human flourishing for schools by Michael Reiss and John White is published by IOE Press, priced £14.99.


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